12 New Books We Recommend This Week

SELF-PORTRAIT, by Celia Paul. New York Review Books, $29.95.) In this beautifully illustrated memoir, the British painter Celia Paul writes about her life and her work — or, more precisely, her attempts to realize the possibilities of each despite the constraints thrown up by the other. Paul was 18 in 1978 when she met Lucian Freud, who was 55 at the time. They were lovers for 10 years, and had a son together. “Paul’s powers of observation are keen and often ruthless,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes, “but she never resorts to the language of self-pity — even when a reader might expect her to.” The total effect of the memoir is “captivating.”

APOLLO’S ARROW: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, by Nicholas A. Christakis. (Little, Brown Spark, $29.) In one of the first book-length efforts to grapple with the Covid-19 crisis, Christakis takes a panoramic approach, explaining the science but also sweeping across the grief, fear and lies that make a pandemic emotionally as well as medically punishing. David Quammen, reviewing it, calls it “a useful contribution to this initial wave of Covid books, sensible and comprehensive, intelligent and well sourced.”

TO BE A MAN: Stories, by Nicole Krauss. (Harper/HarperCollins, $26.99.) The themes of Krauss’s first story collection echo those she has previously explored in four well-received novels; in these moving stories we feel the weight not only of family, but of history and faith and leaving a legacy, pressing down on every one of her characters. “Despite the common threads, Krauss still somehow seems to have invented a new form for each novel, each story — their characters so fully realized that Krauss’s deft authorial hand is rarely evident,” Molly Antopol writes in her review. “Her characters seem to dictate how their own stories ought to be told.”

ABE: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, by David S. Reynolds. (Penguin Press, $45.) In this prodigious and lucid “cultural biography,” Reynolds draws on a lifetime of Civil War scholarship to show a Lincoln whose character and thought were shaped by the cultural and social forces swirling through America during his era. “More character study than narrative biography, this Lincoln portrait, fully 932 pages of text, goes further than most previous studies in probing the complexities and nuances of the man,” our reviewer, Robert W. Merry, writes: “his tastes, likes, dislikes, the quality of his thinking, the evolution of his ideas — all shaped and molded by the society around him.”

KANT’S LITTLE PRUSSIAN HEAD & OTHER REASONS WHY I WRITE: An Autobiography in Essays, by Claire Messud. (Norton, $25.95.) These ruminative and wide-ranging essays explore Messud’s growth as a person and as a thoughtful literary citizen. Along the way she delves into the durability of art, the impermanence of human circumstances and the tenacity of memory. Frank Bruni, in his review, applauds her “great talent for enlarging the context of whatever she’s writing about and weaving in astute bits of broader commentary,” and her “even greater talent for bringing her essays to a poignant, haunting close, with a few final phrases that distill the meaning of all that preceded them and send a kind of shudder through your mind and heart. If she were a gymnast, she’d be renowned for sticking her landings.”

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